Burma government restricts Karen New Year celebrations

The Karen people from Tenasserim Division in southern Burma are challenging new government restrictions on celebrating Karen New Year in the Division capital, Tavoy.

A Karen elder in Tavoy, who does not want to be named, told Karen News that Tenasserim’s Government Chief Minister, former Lt. Gen. Khin Zaw, has forbidden large celebrations of Karen New Year.

The Karen elders from different villages in Tavoy District are organizing and planning to celebrate the Karen New Year in Tavoy after the new government took office.

There were hopes the new government would grant the Karen groups greater freedom and cultural rights, with excitement mounting that Karen New Year could be held with many communities together in Tavoy town.

The Karen elders requested it be held in Tavoy (Dawei) Education College’s grounds which could accommodate large crowds, with expectations approximately two thousands people could attend. The Tavoy Education College authorities had approved the use of the grounds for the event. While the Minister of Tenasserim Division Khin Zaw had approved the Karen New Year celebrations in Tavoy town, on November 25 the Minister informed the organizers it could not be held at Tavoy Education College.

“The Minister said the celebration was too big and asked us to move to a nearby Karen church, which could not accommodate more than 300 people,” the Karen elder said.

“The Ministry said he worries about the event because it seems too big. He did not say why he is worrying.

“We and the Karen villagers are disappointed about the government restriction. They gave us the right to celebrate our Karen New Year, but very limited – they don’t grant us the rights we asked for. I think they only want to have face, by allowing us to celebrate our new year.”

There are also reports, including from the Democratic Voice of Burma, that Khin Zaw was dismissed recently following bribery charges connected to the lucrative rice trade after he took office earlier this year.

Karen New Year is a public holiday in Burma and this year will fall on 25 December.

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